Fishhook Mammillaria microcarpa celebrating the monsoon with a promise of future fruitlets (MABurgess photo)
Crowns of Mammillaria flowers make pink arches like miniature 4th of July fireworks now suddenly visible among desert rocks and under greening bursage. They are rain celebrations–the PROMISES of fruits to come! In a few weeks the little fishhook pincushions will sport a crown of shiny red fruitlets. Keep watch for them. Known in Sonora as pitayita de raton (little mouse’s pitaya), each long red droplet will give you a sweet tangy zing– like a mini-organpipe-cactus fruit. Tia Marta here to share ways of enjoying the cornucopia that is beginning to spill out flavorfully all around us in town and out in the desert in this monsoon time.
Late fruiting prickly pear–unripe green but full of promise this week (July 8)
Opuntia lindheimeri alba barely turning pink this week–more promises…(July 8)
Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening…not yet (week of July 8)
All around the desert and through every neighborhood, I see the promise of a good prickly pear harvest, inspired by our elongated spring and nurtured by good monsoon rain. Each prickly pear seems to march to a different drummer. Right now you can see every shade of color–unripe to ripening tunas–very green, to rosy, to deepening red. These are PROMISES so don’t jump the gun! They are not ready quite yet–but this is the signal to get your kitchen PREPARED. Stay tuned–There will be more blog posts to detail prickly pear ideas in coming weeks. Make space now in your freezer, and make time on your calendar for the August TUNA HARVEST.
Opuntia engelmannii full of ripening fruit–But don’t salivate yet (week of July 8)! Wait for a dark maroon color to extend all the way to the bottom attachment of the tuna AND through the tuna‘s entire interior before they are fully ripe and ready to eat or cook.
What a glorious monsoon our Sonoran Desert has enjoyed over the last couple of weeks! The explosion of life in such a short time is astounding on the heels of record-breaking heat and drought. This is when the desert shows its tropical heritage with a surge of energy, fecundity, productivity. Isn’t it interesting that the “outsider’s” view of the desert is of hazardous scarcity? More interesting instead is to understand and appreciate the waves of nutritious plenty that can erupt suddenly here in the Sonoran Desert. Native People know how to rally, to harvest in the times of plenty and to store short-lived fruits of the desert against lean times–lessons worth exercising. Plentiful foothills palo verde seeds (Parkinsonia microphylla) are a case in point.
Mature dry pods of foothills paloverde–with potential for making nutritious flour!
Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking
Seeds of foothills palo verde– dry and hard as little stones
At PRESENT, lasting perhaps through July, there are copious “fruits-of-the-desert” hanging on foothills palo verde trees (aka little-leaf paloverde) covering desert hillsides. In early June, palo verde pods were offering soft sweetpeas for fresh picking (described in the June13,2015 Savor blog on this site). Now in July, palo verde pods are rattling with shrunken stone-hard seeds. When ground, or when toasted and milled, these little dry seeds can produce two fabulous gluten-free flours for adding to baked goods, hot cereal, gravies etc.
Dry foothills palo verde seeds: milled raw-Left; toasted and milled fine-Center; toasted & coarse-milled-Right
Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet
Oh how I wish that technology could keep up with our needs for scratch, sniff, and taste in this blog!! The distinctly different flavors and textures of these two flours are so pleasant. Desert People traditionally parched and ground these seeds in bedrock mortars. I used a coffee mill to grind them. The raw flour has a wonderful bean-i-ness bouquet coming through. Then I toasted (parched) a separate batch of seeds in an un-greased skillet before milling, and WOW the roasty aroma of this gluten-free flour is rich. I am using it to add flavor –not to mention high protein and complex carbs–to multigrain breads and biscuits. So FULFILLING! A friend who tried these different preparations for palo verde flour even wants to use it as a spice or seasoning!
With the monsoon (and with the help of many hummingbird pollinators) has come another edible surprise to my desert garden–octopus cactus fruit–that I just have to share with you:
Stenocereus alamosensis with hummer- and perhaps ant-pollinated flower, June26,2016. Note happy ant on petal. (MABurgess photo)
Fruit of octopus cactus Stenocereus alamosensis, ripe and splitting July 4, 2016 (MABurgess photo)
Juicy sliced octopus cactus fruit (Stenocereus alamosensis) on palo chino bowl (MABurgess photo)
Years ago I collected seed for it near Alamos, Sonora, and grew it out in Tucson. Surviving frosty winters, and flowering in previous years, it never bore fruit before. This year, fertilization happened at last, and voila–there are sensational, gently sweet delicacies to eat right off the cactus. The fruit’s fresh crispy texture is like watermelon and its seeds are tiny protein crunches. [Light bulb idea]–With climate change, this flavorful cactus fruit–and others like it–could become an appropriate specialty food to grow locally.
Keep your eyes peeled and prepare for more harvests from the latest new “promises” blooming for multiple times this season in the desert…..Check out these potential edibles:
This is the third bloom of saguaros this season–if pollinated may give yet another fruit harvest
Green swelling Padre Kino fig–Young trees are available next week at the NSS plant sale!
A new wave of mesquite flowers and green pods promise a second harvest this season.
Don’t miss the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale this next weekend, Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, 2016! For your own garden-to-table promises and preparations, check out the many starts of NSS heirloom summer vegetables and monsoon wildflowers. There will be tomatillo plants, heirloom chile varieties, cucumber, many squash and melon varieties to give your garden a jump-start. A few 5-gallon Father Kino fig trees propagated at Mission Garden will be available for sale, so come early.
For well-seasoned ideas for desert cookery, two fabulously useful books continue to inspire: Tucsonan Sandal English’s cookbook from the 1970’s Fruits of the Desert published by the Arizona Daily Star, and desert-foods aficionado (& Blog-Sister) Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest published by University of Arizona Press. Borrow or buy, and use them with joy.
I wish you happy harvesting as the desert’s present promises become a cornucopia of fulfilling plenty!
[For anyone seeking heirloom foods and products made with wild foods, check out http://www.flordemayoarts.com and http://www.nativeseeds.org, or visit the Baggesen Family booth at Sunday St Philips farmers market.]